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Durban - If Howick Falls doesn’t satisfy one’s appetite for watching white water drop down dizzying heights, it might be a good idea to wander deeper into the Midlands. Destination: the slightly higher Karkloof Falls.
But drive there quite slowly, perhaps slower than the rivers at their summer strength would take you. That way you can absorb the views, both in the distance and in the detail you could easily miss along the roadside.
A few kilometres outside Howick, a gap in the landscape allows a glimpse down to the next step of the descending staircase that makes up the KwaZulu-Natal terrain. Lush pastures in the foreground give way to a view of Albert Falls Dam way down below.
Down a dip and up a rise, a faded signboard that reads “Karkloof Falls” directs you along a dust road with occasional ruts that would make it foolish to speed along.
Going slow gives the route added value when it comes to looking at birds and other creatures that inhabit the pine and gum plantations. Like a young puffadder that was making its way across the road shortly after we had turned around one of the tight bends.
Being forced to stop, get out and look at the little serpent meant noticing other things along the roadside, like the ijikijolo berries coming into fruit, changing from red to green. These appear on bushes with razor-like barbs and are something of a curse for farmers and foresters in KwaZulu-Natal, or anyone walking for that matter. Except, perhaps, for people who pick them to eat, or make jam.
The ijikijolo, scientifically known as Rubus cuneifolius and in English as the American bramble, was reportedly introduced from the US in the 19th century and has since become a serious alien invader. Its Zulu name means “to cling and not let go”.
This month, the Karkloof, or Mlambomunye River, which drops over the 105m Karkloof Falls, has been pumping full, offering a spectacular vista from the viewing platform.
Karkloof means “ravine of the cart”. The Karkloof Falls are said to have been given this name because, in about 1845, a heavily laden cart overturned and remained a landmark for years, according to an information board.
Above them are the smaller Woodhouse Falls.
Getting there is dependent on the state of the road, which changes from time to time and has been accessible to a VW Golf, but this year it ain’t.
Both at the accessible Karkloof Falls viewpoint and at the pools and rapids above the Woodhouse Falls are shady picnic and braai spots that offer the perfect place to pass an hour, or an afternoon.
There are also toilet facilities and rubbish bins but no commercial activity.
An outing to the Karkloof Falls is possible only outside the fire season, which varies from year to year.
Generally, this makes Karkloof Falls a summer experience.
l Karkloof Falls is 22km from Howick. To get there, turn off Howick’s Main Street, on to the Karkloof/Rietvlei Road until the Karkloof Falls signpost, then proceed carefully on dirt, through plantations, to the falls.
Nearby attractions include the Saturday morning Karkloof Farmers Market, just outside Howick on the Karkloof/ Rietvlei road, and Karkloof Canopy Tours, where one can go swinging on a cable through the treetops a few metres further on from the Karkloof Falls turnoff.
For further information, visit www.karkloofcanopytour.co.za - Independent on Saturday